In the age of technology, social media, especially Facebook, have become game-changing digital platforms for journalists to capture information flow, distribute news and engage with their audience. While traditional newspapers and broadcasting services still function on their punctual schedule and procedure, audiences nowadays no longer want to wait till a specific hour to turn on the TV or tune up the radio, as they can access news from various sources using their phone, read stories on their own schedule, or even redistribute the news to their own networks of “friends”, through “sharing” or “retweeting”.
Each news organisation has reacted differently to this new phenomenon. Some are afraid it will threaten their monopoly as the cultural gatekeepers and turn them to the mere gate-watchers in the online world. Others have fully embraced the new opportunities to crowd-check their source, invite constructive feedback and learn more about their audience’s interests.
In general, all major news outlets have their online presence on a handful of social platforms, besides their official web, such as The New York Times, The Guardian, or The Age, where users can consume bite-size news piece at any time that suits them, give comments, and share their favourite stories. Sites like Facebook and Twitter are gradually replacing news websites to become the major news sources for young Millennials.
On the other hand, the increasing popularity of social media has led to the emergence of the so-called “produser” (user-producer), which further blurs the boundary between professional journalism and citizen journalism. The Fashion Magazine, for example, invites bloggers to contribute to their content, enriching their fashion trends and build up a strong networks of fashionistas that promote their brand image and create content from different perspectives.
Among all those online distribution platform, Facebook is currently a big deal, at least to the older Millennials, because it’s not only trying to replace other publishing platforms, it’s trying to replace everything.
Now think of the user journey. You open Facebook on your mobile and scroll through the News Feed, you come across an interesting article or video, you click on it. And you actually don’t have to leave Facebook to read or watch that video. You’re still in the Facebook app, and you can always click the Back button to resume your Newsfeed-scrolling experience.
A friend of mine even says that Facebook has replaced the newspapers. You want to know what’s in the spotlight? Open Facebook and see what news get shared the most by your friends. Want to post an ad to sell your camera, buy a second-hand car, or look for a job? You don’t even need to open the classified section on your local newspaper—you just go to dedicated groups on Facebook. I even found my current job on Facebook! (Just kidding, I found it on LinkedIn, but my friend did find her job on Facebook.)
The thing is, there are a lot of media publishers, like Now This, Reuters or Men’s Health (please don’t judge me), which I follow and read every piece of content they put on social media, but never actually visit their websites. With the spread of Instant Article, users are now more likely to read an article right on Facebook rather than opening it on a separate browser. From a publisher’s perspective, that’s amazing because you can interact with your audience in several ways on just on platform.
However, no matter how powerful Facebook is as a distribution platform, you have to remember two things. Firstly, it’s not free. Yes, you can open a page on Facebook for free, but you have to pay for your message to reach your audience. Brombacher, whose Facebook page Blonde Nerd had about 65,000 likes, once commented on Forbes in regard of the decline of Facebook’s organic reach to 2%:
“It’s discouraging, after spending years working so hard to build my audience, to see Facebook essentially take away those years of effort by decreasing the organic reach of posts so significantly. It feels like Facebook requires me to pay every time I post something to reach the very audience I’ve spent the last five years cultivating.”
And secondly, you don’t “own” the platform. In marketing’s term, Facebook is categorised as an “earned medium” (and it’s likely to turn into a “paid medium” soon). One day, it may be gone, like Friendster, Yahoo 360 or Myspace. So the advice in this case is simple, don’t put all your eggs in one basket. Explore and experiment with several social media!
Of course, social media doesn’t come without cons. It has been widely criticised for turning journalism into an industry driven by clicks and views, rather than valuable contents. Scandals, human-interest stories, controversial statements, etc. take the spotlight, while more serious news get pushed down as they don’t generate as much clicks, hence less advertising revenues.
In 2013, Ron Culp predicted “pageview journalism” would become the primary source of news in the US. In 2014, an ING Group study reported that “Publish first, correct if necessary” was the motto those days. The urging need to be the first to break the news has led to the fact that only 20% of journalists fact-check their piece before publishing. After all, they can always rely on the social media users to crowd-check the information, and edit the post later if necessary.
As Hank Stuever once pointed out on The Washington Post:
“News, both as a phenomenon and a commodity, must now travel faster than it can be verified, and our demands for who-what-why-how must now come bundled with caution.”
With that in mind, social media is here to stay—so there’s no other way for news organisations rather than to embrace it and make use of its power. After all, it’s one of the few tools out there that allow the news to spread further to a broader variety of audiences, and let users contribute their own content and promote a newspaper’s brand through word-of-mouth.